Despite my enviable location in Huacachina, a palm fringed oasis in the centre of Peru's sand dune desert, I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. The wrong side of the hard, tiny, polyester sheet-ed bed.
Grumping my way through the morning, I discovered that I had left my adorable one-piece bathing suit in LA. As I stared at the inviting pool filled with bikini-clad Israelis, their perfect breasts bobbing atop the water, my wee fists balled up and I felt absolutely gutted - angry at myself, angry at the pool, angry at the multiple pairs of tanned C cups and angry at this day.
“I'll be in the room, reading.” I announced. S looked worried.
“We can look for a bathing suit at the shops nearby? You can wear my dumb board shorts?” I shook my head.
“You can... go in your panties?” He added hopefully. I shook my head with more vigor.
“No, S. Some days are just ruined. Some days just suck.” I was in the mood to nurse my pessimism, to carefully cradle my lingering jet lag and be, in a word, crabby.
I spent the morning and early afternoon sipping a Coke (referred to here as a 'Coca', bringing me back to my time in Spain as a naïve teenager) and reading David Byrne's “Bicycle Diaries.” I was in no mood for S' joking, for the loud techno remixes of Pearl Jam playing in the pool bar (am I ever?) or for the Spanish dubbed Simpsons episode blaring from the episode. “If I hear Homer say “Que” one more time...” I thought, “I will throw this bottle of Coca through the TV.”
Gradually, after petting some friendly stray dogs and finding the resident turtle, I relaxed. A little. My shoulders, formerly at ear level, began to drop. I began to get ready for the the activity we had planned for the rest of the day – a dunebuggying trip up into the heights of the sand dunes.
Until this afternoon, I had never been on a dunebuggy before. ATV, yes – on the North shore of Oahu. Open air Hummer? Sure, up the back side of the desert canyon up to Joshua Tree National Park near Palm Springs. But never a dunebuggy, and frankly I had no idea what to expect.
At 4pm a funnel shaped cart with 15 seats pulled up to our guesthouse and we piled inside. As S and I struggled to get comfortable and buckled in, I was awaiting a safety run-down, or at the very least a cursory glance back from the driver to ensure that we were correctly locked into place. “Erm, S? I don't think the driver speaks any....” we lurched into action, “Englishhhhh!”
Up the side of the mountainous dune we went, everyone shrieking with joy – everyone except for me. I was reacting with my usual thrill ride response of maniacal laughter (less “haha I love this,” more often an “I am unsure about this but now I am trapped so hahaha...”)
Once we had climbed (and twisted and turned) to a suitable altitude we slowed down to take photos and marvel at the majestic dunes, staring far down to where they tumbled gracefully into eachother and slid into the oasis town below. The atmosphere was tranquil and beautiful, a perfect way to end what had begun for me as a bitter and irritated day.
We piled back into the buggy and the driver immediately revved the engine and drove over the side of the sandy cliff. Straight down. Over the side.
My bum lifted from my seat, my head nearly hitting the canopied ceiling of the vehicle. The 13 other passengers were dead silent for a split second – and then the screaming began. A mixture of English, Spanish, Hebrew and German, we were all invoking our respective gods as we continued to descend the steep dune face. Once at the bottom, to the breathily repeated chorus of “Whoo!” we raced over the tops of three wavy bumps, each propelling us further up into the air than the last. My rear end smashed down onto the seat, my own laughter ringing nervously through my ears. That, and a familiar voice quietly repeating “Oh. Oh my god.”
That's when I glanced at S. His face was white and he was holding onto the seat in front of him, fingertips turning yellow. As we slowed down for a second stop I turned to him. “I forgot – you hate rollercoasters.” He nodded. Rollercoasters are at least welded to some kind of stationary structure, held in place on a track with bolts and screws, monitored by safety technicians and federal rules for their maintenance. My mind recalled the information in the Lonely Planet about the dunebuggying - “some drivers take unnecessary risks, and accidents are not uncommon.” Now it made sense. I patted him on his tensed arm.
“Not much you can do now, S. Just try to enjoy the ride.”
He valiantly attempted to have a really nice time as we careened recklessly over a half dozen peaks, eventually coming to a stop at the top of an enormous dune, the turret of an immense sandcastle. Walking along the perfectly straight crest I felt mild vertigo - a few missed steps and I would tumble like a rag doll over the steep edge.
That's when the driver, in broken English, announced "Ok, now you board." Looking at the rustic fibreglass boards haphazardly piled into the back of the buggy I shuddered. S gulped. Sandboarding, an intangible idea that seemed innocuous when we were booking it in town, seemed terrifying when confronting it head on and at the top of a sand cliff.
As if heading to war we both plodded to choose a board and begin rubbing it furiously with a candle. "Waxing board go fast!" Exclaimed our driver. I nervously nodded and tried to add the smallest amount of wax possible.
A few Aussie Whistler types went first, smoothly tipping over the edge and slicing down the sand face as if it were a hill at Blackcomb. They were followed by other boardings, some deftly carving their way down the hill and others faceplanting in more and more impressively painful looking ways. And then it was my turn.
Like a few other novices (believe it or not, I have never snowboarded) and nervous nellies I slid down the 150 metre hill on my stomach - and it was awesome. One of the most thrilling rides of my life - I picked up speed as I went, flying past the bottom of the hill and up the side of the other.
S bravely went down the hill standing, and actually managed to stay upright for most of it. I picked up my board and headed to the top of the next hill - a tiny one that I attempted standing - and immediately bailed. And attempted standing again - and immediately bailed again. And so on until the bottom....
We slid down one more hill, this one twice as long as the first. I ran over to S when it was all over. "Well, that was fun! But now I'm done. We'll watch the sunset and head back, I'm sure!"
I shouldn't have been so sure. After a few more minutes in the buggy we pulled to a stop at the top of a slope that made the previous three look like bunny hills - about 400 metres. "So much for a relaxing view of the sunset..." My knees knocked and my stomach flipped but after watching a few people brave the immense hill I kicked off - the sound of my nervous laughter trailing behind me.
The longest of the first batch of hills.
Three more slopes awaited - each longer and more treacherous than the last. Climbing in the sand to the top of each was exhausting, but the pay-off - the absolutely silliness of playing like children in natural playground - was worth it. It was exhilarating. A warm smile spread across my face as I watched S tumble down the final monumentally long slope and come to a stop at the bottom.
Does it look long? It was long. Very loooong.
"Still grumpy?" S teased. I socked him in the shoulder. "Still afraid of rollercoasters?" The answer to both - a resounding "No!"
A good reminder that on those days when I get up on the wrong side of the bed it's always possible to change my attitude by getting outside, having fun and pushing myself out of my comfort zone.
Now if only I could get this sand out my ears, nose, hair and erm... well, you get the picture. Hasta Luego!